This was a paperback science fiction novel which I checked out from a public library in Indiana in the mid-1980s.

The text on the back cover was what originally caught my eye. It said something to the effect that one day a talented artist got the sad news that he had developed a nasty medical condition which might let him live another twenty years if he took very good care of himself and stayed on the planet where he currently resided . . . or he could work to fulfill his dream of traveling to other worlds, but lots of interstellar travel would so aggravate his condition that he would probably die after about one year of it. Then the final sentence on the back cover said approximately the following:

This is the story of that year.

Beyond that premise, I only remember details of one scene. The artist, and some other human traders or explorers, are trapped in a holy shrine on a planet inhabited by a nonhuman species. The original plan had been to sneak in and steal some of the sacred items stored within. But now they are besieged by hostile natives who feel this intrusion is sacrilegious -- and even if the explorers negotiate safe passage to get back to their ship and leave quietly, they certainly won't be allowed to take the sacred items with them. The artist suggests he'll spend the next few hours making detailed sketches of these items, and they ought to be able to sell those exclusive sketches to wealthy collectors back home -- for enough money to at least make a small profit on this trip.


A Different Light

This novel by Elizabeth Lynn was originally published in 1978, which makes the time-frame right. The description on Amazon is a perfect match for the details mentioned in the question:

In the future, cancer has been eliminated on Earth. Despite his diagnosis, celebrated artist Jimson Alleca can live peacefully for another twenty years if he stays on the planet to receive his medication. But Jimson does not want peace; he wants love. Even though it will shorten his lifespan, giving him one single year more, Jimson leaves space-normal to enter “the Hype,” a shimmering space outside of space. He goes in search of his former lover, the star captain Russell O’Neill. What he finds is enough adventure and freedom to fill a lifetime.

The "twenty years" number is not mentioned in the book, though the numbers in the blurb exactly match the description (perhaps it’s on the back cover), but it is true that traveling to other planets will accelerate Jimson’s death:

"Nothing’s changed. The mutation rate of cancers sent through Hyperspace is still 96%. Jim—why can’t you forget it? There’s a whole world for you here."

"Because I’ve stopped working." He tried to be precise. "I’m a rat in a cage: an illustrious rat, and it’s a plush cage, but I can still see bars." His left leg began to ache and he cursed it silently. "I think the bars would dissolve in my head if I could get off New Terrain. See something new. I’m tired of what I can see. I want to see something different. And it’s been fourteen years since I’ve wanted anything as badly."

"You can go," Raina said evenly. "You can go off-world as soon as you get a renewable drug disc. And you can go through the Hype, and it will kill you."

A Different Light

He is employed to steal some rare masks. He chooses to draw the masks, rather than stealing them, and sell the sketches to his client:

“Give me a night, Russell.”


“Give me a night, and you won’t need to take De Vala a Mask. I can bring them back for you. Last time I looked, my name was good for something. I’ll draw them. The Crystal Masks, by Jimson Alleca. De Vala’s a collector. He’ll know what they’re worth. It’s a better bargain for him, more things to hang on his walls. If he isn’t a telepath, he won’t mind the substitution. He’ll pay you for them. And if he is a telepath—well, maybe he shouldn’t have a Mask.”

A Different Light

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  • What’s odd is that that twenty years number is never mentioned in the novel, it seems. – Adamant Nov 2 '16 at 0:53
  • Thank you for answering this nagging question for me! I've actually read one or two other books by Elizabeth Lynn within the last 15 years or so, but apparently it had been so long since I read this one that I'd never realized I'd previously been exposed to some of her work. – Lorendiac Nov 2 '16 at 23:18

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